During the entire seven days of the holiday we are required to leave our permanent homes and take up residence in the sukkah as much as possible. Therefore, we eat our meals there, entertain our guests there and even sleep there. The sukkah reminds us of the huts that the Jewish people lived in during the 40 years that they wandered in the desert prior to finally entering the land of Israel. The sukkah also symbolizes the miraculous clouds of glory that G-d enveloped the Jewish people, giving them shelter and protection.
Another main feature of the holiday is the four species: the lulav (palm branch), which is bound together with three myrtle branches and two willow branches and an etrog (citron), which looks somewhat like a lemon. We are commanded to own a set of these four species and each day wave it towards the four corners of the world, upward and downward.
Recovering Our Inner Child
I find the contrast of Sukkot next to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur amazing. We just spent 10 heavy days, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, immersed in intensive introspection, probing the depth of our souls to uncover our flaws and confront our mistakes, expressing heartfelt remorse for our wrongdoings and courageously committing ourselves to long lasting changes. Then, the very next day after Yom Kippur, we are out and about like playful children admiring the beauty of nature; looking at etrogim, palm branches, willows and myrtles. And we are building and decorating clubhouses - the sukkah.
What's Going On?
Although we value the maturity of the repentance process-we paid a price for the process. The heavy concentration and intensity of the last tens days often weakens us and damages the spontaneity and joy of our inner child.
The seriousness of repentance takes it toll on the joyfulness of life and our naturalness. Although repentance is a process of spiritual healing, there are side effects that need to be attended to. Even though we are over the sickness, we need to become healthy, whole and strong again. We need to reconnect with our vitality and life force. On Sukkot we recover our playfulness and our zest for life.
Passover is referred in the holiday prayers as the "time of our freedom." Shavuot is called "the time of the giving of our Torah." However, Sukkot is described as the "time of our happiness." On Sukkot we reclaim the joy and liveliness of our inner child and remember "Toy-rah R Us."
Judaism teaches that the goal of life and the source of true happiness is holiness. We are holy when we are whole-integrated and harmonious with our inner self, with our nation, with the rest of humanity, with nature and with G-d. This is accomplished through fulfilling the Commandments of G-d.
When we violate the Commandments, we undermine our holiness and become disintegrated and discordant with our inner self, our nation, humanity, nature and G-d. In other words, when we go against the will of G-d we estrange ourselves from the Soul of souls-the Ultimate Self-G-d, and from our inner self, which is a spark of G-d. We set ourselves apart from the Jewish people-our collective national self-by failing to fully partake in accomplishing our G-d given national mission. We also alienate ourselves from the rest of humanity because we neglect our responsibility to become a light of inspiration to them. Because we are not fulfilling our divine purpose on earth, nature resists supporting us and dis-ease increases in the world.
From Rosh Hashanah till Yom Kippur we work our way back, from disintegration to wholeness and happiness. On Sukkot we reach the finish line and celebrate becoming whole again.
As part of this celebration of wholeness, we take the four species and wave them toward the four corners of the world, up and down.
The sages tell us that the four species represent different parts of ourselves. The etrog symbolizes our heart, the palm branch-our spine, the shape of the myrtle leaves suggests our eyes and the willow leaves look like our mouth. Therefore, when we hold them together to perform the commandment we are as if pulling ourselves together and dedicating ourselves to G-d.
The four species also symbolize the different kinds of Jews that make up the community. The etrog has taste and fragrance-representing Jews who are both learned in Torah and also do good deeds. The lulav, which is a branch of a date tree, hints to those of us who have taste but not fragrance-Torah learning but not good deeds. The myrtle has fragrance but no taste-alluding to those amongst us who do good deeds but are not learned. The willow, however, has neither taste nor fragrance-signifying Jews who are unlearned and do no good.
Therefore, when you hold the four species together, you are not only expressing the wholeness within yourself, you are also acknowledging yourself as being connected and whole with your fellow Jews, no matter who they are.
We then wave the four species toward the four corners of the world, up and down, to acknowledge that the whole world, all of humanity, heaven above and the earth below, belong to G-d.
The commandment to live in the sukkah is also a celebration of our return to wholeness.
Although the sukkah has specific requirements regarding how small or tall it can be, there are no limits to how wide and long it can be. In fact, the Talmud says that it can be big enough to accommodate the entire Jewish people. In other words, the sukkah expresses the peace and wholeness that we can share with every Jew in the world.
It is customary each day of the holiday, just before we begin our meal in our sukkah, to invite as our dinner guests the ushpizhin. The ushpizhin are the souls of the ancient founders, visionaries, and leaders of the Jewish people-Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and King David. This custom celebrates the truth that on Sukkot we not only feel whole again with the entire Jewish people living in our times, but of all times, since their very inception. When we do wrong and violate the teachings of the Torah, we break our link to Jewish history and forfeit our part in Jewish destiny. However, on Sukkot, now that we have completed our repentance, we experience ourselves reunited with the collective soul of our people, including those great souls who were both the founders of the Jewish people's past and visionaries of their future.
Once we are reconnected to our people, we are back on track ready to fulfill our universal mission-to be a priestly nation, a light unto the world, and the ambassadors for world peace. Therefore, during the times when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, we celebrated our wholeness with humanity by bringing sacrifices on their behalf.
Ready to fulfill our purpose on earth we are able to celebrate our return back to nature and nature supports us in our holy efforts. Therefore, we embrace the four species and feel embraced by the natural setting of the sukkah, covered by its roof made of foliage, living in its shade by day, and peering at the stars at night. In fact, according to Jewish mysticism, the sukkah has the ambience of the Garden of Eden, where humanity was in complete harmony with nature and all our physical needs were naturally provided for without the sweat of our brow.
Some sages explain that the sukkah even has the ambience of the World to Come. Even though on Yom Kippur we got a glimpse of the World to Come, to get that glimpse we had to leave this world through fasting and other abstentions of physical pleasures. However, on Sukkot, now that we have already purged ourselves of our wrongdoings, we can experience heaven on earth through feasting in our sukkah-we experience the World to Come in this world precisely through physical pleasure.
The fasting on Yom Kippur prepares us for the feasting on Sukkot. The abstention from the physical pleasures of this world on Yom Kippur is only meant to heal us from the sickness of overindulgence. But, once we take control of ourselves and free ourselves from our sins, addictions, and obsessions, then we are free to enjoy the pleasures of this world on Sukkot.
On Yom Kippur we leave this world and experience union with G-d through transcending nature and abstaining from physical pleasures. However, on Sukkot we experience union with G-d in nature and through physical pleasures. This is the journey of holiness.
The epitome of holiness is expressed when we experience no conflict between the physical and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural, the eternal and the temporal. We simply enjoy perfect harmony, synergy, and wholeness.
This truth is clearly expressed in the commandment to dwell in the sukkah. It is one of the very few commandments that we do with our entire body and we fulfill it by merely living, eating, drinking, and conversing in the sukkah. We even fulfill the commandment by simply sleeping there.
After the hard work during the days of penitence we can now relax and experience how our everyday natural life is immersed in the truth of G-d's all embracing presence. The sukkah teaches us that we are always and completely one with G-d even when we are tending to our mundane needs of eating and sleeping. Our choice is to realize this truth and celebrate it.
Sukkot is the celebration of ultimate holiness. On this holiday we celebrate the wholeness we achieved after penitence and the wholeness with G-d that we can now experience in our physical world. We feel the ecstatic joy of being integrated within ourselves, one with our people and our leaders throughout time, aligned with our nation's universal mission, renewed in our commitment to humanity, and harmonized with nature. We are thrilled to know and feel that we have finally returned back to our true selves. We are whole in One-whole with G-d and whole in G-d.